What does it mean to be a University of Edinburgh Graduate?

graduate attributes imageAt New Year many people make resolutions for the 12 months ahead – sometimes to ‘stop’ something, sometimes to ‘start’.  But all resolutions are about ‘becoming’, and in particular becoming someone who has different characteristics and qualities than before.

Being a student at the University of Edinburgh is also a process of ‘becoming’ – becoming an Edinburgh Graduate – a process owned by each student and supported by all of us in the University.  But what does it mean to be an Edinburgh Graduate?

Technicalities and beyond

On one level it’s very simple: an Edinburgh Graduate is someone who has graduated from the University of Edinburgh.  While technically correct, that doesn’t unlock the full meaning. In reality, every aspect of our learning and teaching and of our wider student experience shapes our students – both in their skills and abilities, and in the way they approach things.

Each learning, teaching or assessment method we choose demands slightly different skills, abilities and approaches from our students. The same is true for students’ non-curricular experiences: the way we and our students interact, and the opportunities they can engage with while here, fundamentally shape their development and attitudes.

For example, think about the last task you gave to a student, directly or indirectly, academic or non-academic, practical or conceptual.  For that one task, the student likely needed a range of attributes such as critical thinking, decision making, research skills, effective communication, a willingness to engage, an interest in learning, and a desire to do the task well or successfully.  Now multiply this across every task, experience and interaction a student has with the University during their lifetime with us.  Collectively these weave a rich tapestry of attributes unique to each student.

At its best, higher education is therefore a genuinely transformative and collaborative experience where students grow and develop significantly as individuals, deepening their understanding of themselves and their connection to the world.  An experience like this is fundamental to helping students feel they belong to a university community that cares for them, their development and their success, both in the short and long term.

a wordle of key employability terms
Employability wordle

So, what does it mean to be an Edinburgh Graduate?

Consultation with staff, students and externals in 2008/09 helped the University create the Graduate Attributes Framework, describing ‘an Edinburgh Graduate’.  Over time the language has become outdated and so last year it was refreshed with language students said they found engaging, meaningful and balanced between achievable and aspirational.

The seven individual Graduate Attributes images - find out more via http://www.ed.ac.uk/employability/graduate-attributes/framework
The seven individual Graduate Attributes

Consultation reaffirmed what we heard eight years ago – fostering a combination of mindsets and skill areas is essential. Studying at the University and being part of our community should fundamentally and positively impact students’ approaches to learning, to their own development and aspirations, and to their engagement with the world around them. It should also strengthen skills that enable students’ success now and in the future. The consultation reaffirmed the importance of recognising both the uniqueness of individuals and disciplines and the common characteristics that come from being at this university.

University of Edinburgh graduates have:

  • curiosity for learning that makes a positive difference
  • courage to expand and fulfil their potential
  • passion to engage locally and globally

University of Edinburgh graduates are:

  • creative problem solvers and researchers
  • critical and reflective thinkers
  • effective and influential contributors
  • skilled communicators

Each of these characteristics is shaped by our students’ experiences, personalities and academic subjects, and emerges from one of the seven areas of the University’s Graduate Attributes Framework.  You can read it, information about interpreting it for different disciplines and contexts, and about the links with students’ academic ability, their contribution to society and citizenship, and their employability, at the Graduate Attributes website.


Regardless of whether you make resolutions at New Year or other times, I wish you every success in achieving them.  But I’d also like to suggest a resolution: think explicitly about what graduate attributes your practice fosters in the students you interact with, and how this and your students’ awareness of these attributes can be enhanced.

As with all resolutions, accepting setbacks and embracing these as learning opportunities is critical to success.  However, what’s special about this resolution is that you’ve got support available – just get in touch.  Because if we all make this resolution, it will be a huge step forward in truly unlocking the potential and impact of all our future Edinburgh Graduates.

Gavin McCabe

Dr Gavin McCabe leads the University’s Employability Consultancy. With a background in statistical epidemiology, international development, careers advice and higher education projects, he is now responsible for supporting institutional strategy and initiatives relating to students’ employability, development and graduate attributes, as well as fostering associated local-level activities and enhancements. Current areas of responsibility include: the Edinburgh Award, SLICCs (Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses), Making Transitions Personal and the Development Hub.

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